Warner, Kaine urge Pentagon, State Department to guard against Zika

congressSens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) joined a group of senators in urging the U.S. Department of Defense and the State Department to take steps to protect deployed servicemembers, their families, and other Americans abroad from the threat posed by the Zika virus.

Zika has been linked to microcephaly and other brain malformations and disorders in babies born to women infected during pregnancy.

“The World Health Organization estimates that between three to four million people will become infected with the Zika virus over the next year in the Americas alone. This estimate does not include the countries outside of the Americas, in which the primary vector for Zika – the Aedes aegypti mosquito – is also present,” wrote the Senators in a letter to Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and Secretary of State John Kerry. “In the United States, the number of pregnant women possibly infected with Zika continues to climb to over 340. For civilians and servicemembers, as well as their families, living and serving abroad presents additional risks. The Pentagon recently reported that as of May 20th, 11 servicemembers, 4 dependents, and 2 retirees have been infected with Zika since January. With Civil and Foreign Service officers in more than 250 posts around the world and servicemembers in 150 countries, we appreciate the steps the Departments of State and Defense have taken to protect the women, men, and families serving the United States and living in Zika-affected countries, and we urge you to continue supporting policies that put the health and welfare of these civil servants and servicemembers first.”

Added the Senators, “We commend the steps that your Departments have taken already to gain a better understanding of the threat the Zika virus poses to civilians and servicemembers and their families while serving abroad, as well as to educate our citizens living abroad. For example, the Department of Defense’s recent allocation of additional funding to military laboratories to expand surveillance of Zika to 18 countries and territories is an important first step in identifying and protecting those at risk of Zika infection. Similarly, your Departments’ policies to allow relocation of at-risk employees and servicemembers from Zika-affected areas is commendable, and we urge you to continue this policy.”

In February, President Obama asked Congress for $1.9 billion in supplemental funding for the prevention and treatment of the Zika virus outbreak. After months of delay, Senate Republicans finally agreed to work with Senate Democrats on a bipartisan down payment on the President’s proposal, which would direct $1.1 billion to the Departments of Health and Human Services and State to enhance vector control programs in the United States and its territories, raise public awareness, expand access to preventive health services, and accelerate vaccine development. However, House Republicans have introduced a proposal that provides only $622 million in Zika funding, less than a third of what is needed to meet the public health challenge.

“As we continue to push for quick action to send a strong emergency funding proposal to the President’s desk to tackle this virus, we would appreciate greater detail on how your Departments are working to protect servicemembers and civilians living in Zika-affected areas, specifically women and children, and how additional funding from Congress will assist your Departments, both indirectly and directly, in these efforts,” the Senators told Secretaries Carter and Kerry today.

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